President Donald Trump could afford Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, forty minutes of his time today in New York, as they met aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid, and that only after delaying the meeting for 3 hours.
The President was in Washington lobbying to get his legislation, to repeal “Obamacare”, through the House, which it did. (It now has to get through the Senate where, of course, the Republicans also hold the balance of power.)
The delay in meeting with Mr Turnbull may not be so much of a snub, but you would think that the President could apportion more than 45 minutes of his time to a meeting with the Australian Prime Minister. In this geopolitical landscape, a staunch ally should be treated well. Speaking with the ally’s leader for 45 minutes is hardly preferential treatment. Of course, Mr Trump might have bigger fish to fry.
Perhaps Mr Trump is of the opinion that you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Maybe that is why he gave Mr Turnbull the: ok, you’ve got 45 minutes!, routine.
Or, perhaps he feels that he has so many engagements that he wants, in a show of equanimity, to apportion each a maximum of 45 minutes. Interestingly, both Mr Trump (real estate) and Mr Turnbull (investment banking) have a background in business. Mr Turnbull has spent more time in politics than Mr Trump, but Mr Trump knows his way around a deal.
Mr Trump is clearly unhappy with the refugee deal, made by the Australian government with the previous Washington administration, because it plainly goes against his ethos and mandate to put America first. For that, it’s hard to fault him. He has, however, reluctantly accepted the deal, artless as it may seem to him.
It is important that we consider Mr Trump’s antecedent behaviour, what he displayed even before he was sworn in as president. He was hitting the ground running from the moment the election result was called. He knew (and he knows) that there is no time to lose, and he has been go, go, go, ever since. It is in this context that we should read the forty-five minutes.
Others have said that the President showed great personal restraint and respect for the relationship with Australia by leaving Washington at all, to go to New York, for the meeting and dinner.
As odd as it sounds, it is possible that President Trump really only had 45 minutes to spare. As important as face-to-face meetings are, in this age of media, much of what can be done in person can be subsumed electronically.
And, as the President knows, you can’t be in two places at once.
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